Who we were and what we have become: the invaluable industrial documentary films preserved in Ivrea and Castellanza tell our story

  1. The Lumière brothers projected their first “film” to the public, La Sortie de l’Usine. It was a few seconds long and showed workers leaving their photographic plate factory. A film with clear promotional intent, it was the first attempt at corporate film – a genre that formed a fundamental part of the industrial policy of the 20th century.

In Italy, particularly after WWII, the economic recovery led companies to start using film tools, techniques and language to increase what today would be called brand awareness. They would often commission directors such as Antonioni, Bertolucci, Fellini, Olmi, Risi, and Rossellini to produce documentary films.

In addition to presenting the company and its product, corporate films were used as training tools for employees. They were also shared as educational materials at conventions, trade shows and in schools, and were sometimes included in cinema programs and shown before films.

The thousands of films on the many aspects of corporate life now form an important visual heritage, which is preserved in two important archives: the Archivio del cinema industriale e della comunicazione d’impresa (Archive of Industrial Cinema and Corporate Communication) in Castellanza and the Archivio Nazionale Cinema Impresa (National Archive of Corporate Cinema) in Ivrea.

Archivio del cinema industriale e della comunicazione d’impresa

Founded in 1998 from the partnership between LIUC and Confindustria, it is the first Italian project exclusively dedicated to the preservation and promotion of documentary films produced by companies. It is based at LIUC – Università Cattaneo, in Castellanza, a private university founded in 1991 in the former Cantoni cotton mill, which was the site of an important Italian textile company that ceased operations at the end of the 1980s. Between 1989 and 1991, the Cantoni industrial area underwent expert renovation. The project was headed by the architect, Aldo Rossi, who was responsible for redeveloping the old spinning mill and the building once used as the company’s commercial offices, designed in 1960 by Vito Latis.

The original and largest part of the media library is the Cineteca (film archive), granted by Confindustria (the Confederation of Italian Industry) through the creation of digital copies. It is a collection that reflects Confindustria’s interest in corporate films – an interest shown since the years of the economic boom and which led them to create the Annual Review of Corporate Film in 1959 (renamed Filmselezione in 1984). With the rise of commercial television, corporate documentaries progressively lost their role as communication tools. Their significance as historical documents, however, had already been recognized in the early 1990s thanks to the evolution of studies into corporate history.

Today, in addition to the Confindustria fund, the Archive includes numerous donations and documents that have been collected over the years. It is responsible for preserving and providing access to its own media library and for promoting the history and culture of Italian companies through exchanges with the scientific community, schools, universities and economic operators.

Archivio Nazionale Cinema Impresa

The archive was inaugurated in 2006 in agreement with the Experimental Film Center, the Region of Piedmont, the Municipality of Ivrea and Telecom Italia Spa. It preserves and displays audio-visual documents that tell the story of industrial progress and advancements in social relations, economy and work, often shining a light on individual men and women and their approach to their profession. Films in the archives tell the story of companies such as Aem Milano, Birra Peroni, Borsalino, Edison, Fiat, Ferrovie dello Stato, Innocenti, Italgas, Rancilio, Menabrea and Olivetti. Olivetti, in particular, entrusted the preservation of all the films in its Cinevideo library to the Archive, which occupies the site of the former Olivetti crèche. After all, the Archive and Olivetti are located in the same city, a city to which Olivetti has strong ties. The Archive preserves 82,000 corporate films in 16 and 35mm reels, and 25,000 videos. It also features a digitization and digital restoration laboratory.

Ivrea, Olivetti and the historical Archive

Ivrea is a small, vibrant and elegant town. During Carnival, when it is overrun by individuals in costume ready to take part in the battle of the oranges, it becomes as turbulent as the Dora Baltea, the river that crosses it. Ivrea is, however, also the city where Olivetti, the first Italian typewriter factory, was founded in 1908. In 1932, the company was passed from the founder, Camillo Olivetti, to his son Adriano, an eclectic individual with an enquiring mind, who transformed the family business into a major enterprise. Olivetti, under the guidance of Adriano, immediately made a name for itself as a progressive company, focused on innovation, design and profit without, however, foregoing the welfare of the community. The first major successes arrived in the 1950s with products such as the Divisumma, the first mechanical calculator capable of performing divisions, and the Lettera 22, a portable typewriter. The profit was reinvested in the local area with the creation of buildings for workers and managers, crèches, canteens and hospitals. This is how Olivetti created a double bond with the city, transforming its urban and social fabric.

The first electronic typewriter was invented in 1978, followed by the first professional personal computer in Europe in 1982. After many golden years in the development of computer systems, Olivetti transitioned to telecommunications in the 1990s, positioning itself as a solutions provider. Today, it is the IoT Digital Farm of the TIM Group.

A visit to the Olivetti Historical Archive is the best way to find out about the history and development of this world-renowned brand, through documents, photos, videos, posters, advertisements and thousands of books on the company’s history.


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